Reminder Days


On July 4, 1965, thirty-nine individuals gathered outside Independence Hall to picket for homosexual rights. This event, one of the earliest organized homosexual rights demonstrations in the United States, sought to remind the public that basic rights of citizenship were being denied to homosexual individuals. Reprised each year through 1969, the year of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, the “Annual Reminders” helped define the outward presentation of homosexual activism going forward.

A black and white photograph of picketers whose signs read: opportunity, equality, and no society can be great without All of its citizens
Pickets promote acceptance in front of Independence Hall during the first Reminder Day on July 4, 1965. (New York Public Library)

The 1965 Reminder picket, organized by the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO), responded to a similar successful picket at the White House in April 1965. The leader of the Washington demonstration, Frank Kameny (1925-2011), together with Philadelphia activist Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), helped orchestrate the 1965 picket in Philadelphia in just three months. Kameny insisted that everyone participating in the demonstration wear business-appropriate dress in an effort to show the normalness and employability of the homosexual community. The emphasis on societal conformity led some to question whether the Reminders represented all homosexual people, especially transgender individuals.

Projecting an appearance of normality was of particular importance to Kameny, who had fought a protracted legal battle with the federal government from 1958 to 1961 over his dismissal from public service due to his sexual orientation. With Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as a background, the professionally dressed picketers carried placards demanding equal treatment under the law for more than two hours in front of a sizable crowd.

At the time of the 1965 march, the demonstration constituted the largest known demonstration for homosexual issues in the United States. The “Annual Reminders” also became the first such demonstrations to be repeated over consecutive years (1965-69).

Gay pride parade with banner reading Phila. Gay Pride Day '72
The first Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade took place in 1972. (William Way LGBT Community Center)

The Reminders reflected broader trends in civil rights activism in their organization, evolution, and eventual dissolution. While the pickets were peaceful, they were a step up from sit-ins such as the Dewey’s Lunch Counter sit-in by gender-variant teenagers just months earlier, in May 1965. In the mid to late 1960s, civil rights demonstrations became more overt and confrontational, a trend that culminated for the homosexual movement with the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969, in New York City. The final Reminder Day protest occurred that year on July 4. Although forty-five individuals participated, the organizers concluded that the course of homosexual activism had been changed with the events of Stonewall and so the Reminders were put aside in favor of events that evolved into the pride parades that continued into the twenty-first century.

Locust St. rainbow sign
The rainbow strip added to street signs in the Gayborhood symbolizes Philadelphia’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. (Photograph by Bob Skiba)

In 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission placed a marker at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, near Independence Hall, to commemorate the Annual Reminders as a pivotal moment in the homosexual movement. In 2015, a weekend-long celebration and reenactment paid tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the first Reminder Day picket. The placement of the marker, as well as the continued celebration of the Reminder Days, sought to assure that Philadelphia’s contribution to homosexual activism would have a place in history alongside Stonewall.

Alaina Noland is a graduate student in history at Rutgers-Camden. (Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2016, Rutgers University


Reminder Day Pickets

New York Public Library

In 1965, Philadelphia activists collaborated with groups in Washington, D.C., and New York to stage a march for gay rights in front of Independence Hall on the Fourth of July. Similar demonstrations were held every year for the next four years. The picketing—and the pickets—became known as the “Annual Reminders.” The choice of time and place for the demonstrations underscored the marchers’ political claims. In contrast to the counterculture and antiwar movements, which criticized U.S. society as crassly commercial and militaristic, Annual Reminder marchers situated themselves squarely within American identity by marching on July Fourth in the place where the nation’s founding documents had been written and signed. Organizers of the event enforced a dress code, insisting that marchers conform to gender expectations of the time, as reflected in this photograph.

Gay Rights Protest

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

In 1974, the Philadelphia City Council held hearings on Bill 1275, which would have added sexual orientation to the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance and outlawed anti-gay discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The bill was debated for more than a year and by late 1975 it became clear it would die in committee. While the Gay Activist Alliance planned to mourn the death of the bill with a silent vigil at City Hall, the newly formed Dyketactics, a group of young feminist lesbians, organized a protest of their own, seen here.

Philadelphia Parade, 1972

William Way LGBT Community Center

Participants in Philadelphia's first Gay Pride Parade in June 1972 met in Rittenhouse Square and marched to Independence National Historical Park, where they held a rally with music and speeches. Rittenhouse Square was seen as a focal point in Philadelphia's LGBT geography and Independence National Historical Park was understood to be a proper venue for public discourse on constitutional rights. Gay pride parades in the 1970s descended directly from the Reminder Day demonstrations of the 1960s, which were smaller picketing events at Independence Hall. Participants in the Reminder Day demonstrations dressed in conservative clothing (suits for men, dresses for women), but the gay pride parades were much more extravagant. Marchers were encouraged to express themselves freely though fashion, group chants, and songs.

Locust Street Rainbow Sign

The Gayborhood's rainbow street signs, dedicated by Mayor John F. Street in 2007, signified the city's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. The effort to install the signs was spearheaded by the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus, the Washington Square Civic Association, and Councilman Frank DeCicco. In 2010, thirty-two signs were added, bringing the total to nearly seventy. In 2016, Philadelphia was one of a few North American cities, including San Francisco, Chicago and Montreal, that honored its LGBT community with such signage. (Photograph by Bob Skiba)

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Related Reading

Bullough, Vern L., ed. Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002.

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972.  Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004.

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